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Arrigo Boito, Mefistofele
23 Aug 2009

Boito: Mefistofele

The bravura performance by Ferruccio Furlanetto in the title role is spoiled by the kitschy and incoherent staging of this production. Mefistofele is unique among operas based on the Faust legend in that it rather closely adheres to Goethe’s version.

Arrigo Boito, Mefistofele

Mefistofele: Ferruccio Furlanetto; Faust: Giuseppe Filianoti; Margherita/Elena: Dimitra Theodossiou; Marta: Sonia Zaramella; Wagner/Nereo: Mimmo Ghegghi; Pantalis: Monica Minarelli. Stefano Ranzani conducting. Stage Director: Giancarlo Del Monaco. Live performance at Teatro Massimo, Palermo, January 2008.

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Indeed, the original, no longer extant, version of this work was approximately six hours in length. Even in the severely truncated revised version, Mefistofele has always proven itself to be a serious work, with a libretto that (like Busoni’s Doktor Faust) has some real literary merit. Unfortunately, following the reigning spirit of Regieoper in Europe, director Miguel Del Monaco and set designer Carlo Centolavigna have all but denuded this great opera of its serious intent.

Opting for a 20th-century setting (which in and of itself is not a problem), the “creative” team behind this production has missed the central point of Boito’s (and by extension, Goethe’s) drama, namely, the age-old Platonic opposition of the real and the ideal, in this case, represented by the Margherita/Elena (Helen of Troy) duality. While the ever-reliable Dimitra Theodossiou is afforded the opportunity to continue the tradition of performing both roles, the intention behind this appears to be economic rather than dramatic.

Act I is set in Frankfurt during Easter Sunday, but it is in the Germany of the 1920s, not during Martin Luther’s time. This is at best a questionable tactic because the seemingly peaceful interregnum of the Weimar Republic had such terrible consequences in the following decades. Overloading the already heavily-laden symbolism of the Faust legend with the tragedy of modern German history helps to obscure Faust’s personal dilemma. Adding to the incoherence of the staging, Del Monaco then proves not to have the courage of his convictions by at least being consistent with the historical implications of his staging of Act I, and sets Act IV, the Night of the Classical Sabbath, in Las Vegas. Helen of Troy is reduced to being a showgirl in a tawdry stage show and her attendant Nymphs reminded me of the June Taylor Dancers who used to open the Jackie Gleason TV Show of the 1960s with overhead shots featuring kaleidoscopic choreography.

The ultimate consequence of this staging of Mefistofele is that the characters of Faust and Margherita/Elena are reduced to mere appendages of Mefistofele’s mercurial personality. One of the problems with this opera has always been the overshadowing of Faust and Margherita by Mefistofele. Del Monaco’s staging has exacerbated tenfold this dramatic disparity.

The one saving grace of this production is Ferruccio Furlanetto’s Mefistofele. His performance incorporates a spectacular bass voice with animated acting. The acting, at times, may appear to be a bit over the top, but it is forgivable given the imbecility of the staging. Indeed, Furlanetto’s performance helps to divert attention away from the visual and back to the musical, and for that we must be grateful.

To be charitable to the performers, I thought that the singers and orchestra performed rather well, but at times it was difficult to gauge this accurately since this DVD suffers from very poor balance. Even allowing for the recording difficulties inherent in a live performance, there is really no excuse in this day and age for a professionally recorded DVD to have such poor audio quality.

This DVD will have appeal mostly to fans of Ferruccio Furlanetto. My advice is to turn off the video and listen to the voice.

William E. Grim

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